Ethiopia's Prime Minister Meles Zenawi said Wednesday that troops from neighboring Eritrea have stepped up illegal infiltration into a demilitarized border zone with this country disguised as militia. Meles was speaking days after United Nations peacekeepers said recent restrictions imposed by Eritrea prevent them from guaranteeing that there was no renewed military buildup along the border separating the Ethiopian and Eritrean armies.
"The scale (of infiltration) has increased in recent days and this is a matter of concern to us," Meles told journalists at the National Palace in the capital, Addis Ababa. "We have reason to believe these so called militia are members of the Eritrean Defense Force in a different uniform and a different guise."
The peacekeepers are the only troops allowed in the tense buffer zone that was set up after the two countries fought a 2 1/2-year war that ended in 2000. Under the terms of a peace deal, no Eritrean troops are allowed in the 25-kilometer (16-mile) wide Temporary Security Zone, an area in Eritrean territory separating the two countries, the AP reports.
Eritrea banned helicopter flights by peacekeepers in its airspace in the buffer zone starting Oct. 5. It also banned U.N. patrol vehicles from operating at night on its side of the 1,000-kilometer (621-mile) long Temporary Security Zone.
Meles said the restrictions were a violation of the Algiers peace agreement signed by the two nations in 2000 and said the U.N. "should take necessary measures to restore the status quo."
Ethiopia-Eritrea tensions are long-standing, and there are fears of a new outbreak of fighting as Ethiopia refuses to implement an international ruling on the border made in 2002. Ethiopia objects to the awarding of the disputed town of Badme to Eritrea.
Ethiopia has called for negotiations to break the stalemate, but Eritrea refuses to talk unless Ethiopia accepts the ruling on the border issued by the Eritrea-Ethiopia Boundary Commission, which is part of the Hague-based Permanent Court of Arbitration.
After saying its work had been hampered by new restrictions imposed by Eritrea, the U.N. Mission in Ethiopia and Eritrea said Monday it was pulling peacekeepers from 18 of 40 posts in the buffer zone and strengthening operations at other positions.
United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan later warned Eritrea that if it continues to impede peacekeeping operations the U.N. may pull its troops out of the buffer zone.
A 1952 U.N. resolution paired Eritrea and Ethiopia in a federation, despite Eritrean pleas for independence. Ethiopian Emperor Haile Selassie unilaterally annexed Eritrea in 1962, sparking a protracted uprising. Eritrea declared its independence in 1991.